Friday, February 03, 2006

Military overstretch

Over at Balloon Juice, John Cole notes yet another sign that the Army is overstretched: Officers are being promoted via rubber stamp, rather than culled to eliminate the weak sisters, due to an overall officer shortage in the U.S. Army.

The U.S. Army most decidedly is overstretched. Overstretched to horrendous proportions. he problem is that the U.S. Army of today was designed to fight Gulf War I—i.e., a conventional war utilizing overwhelming technology against an outmatched regional foe (no, today’s Army is not the one designed to fight WWIII, that was the army we used to fight Gulf War I). We found out, in Gulf War I, that our military technology made the Soviet military technology look just sick. The M1A1 can pick off a top-of-the-line Soviet/Russian tank at a range where the Soviet tank’s shells just bounce off the M1A1’s armor. We could have destroyed Saddam’s forces in Gulf War I with a tenth of the force we actually used, because our technology simply makes the old Soviet technology look pathetic. And though the Russians have done limited and haphazard improvement of the old Soviet technology in the years since the Soviet Union collapsed, that basic situation still applies, and will continue to apply for the foreseeable future.

So today’s Army was designed to fight Gulf War I -- a conventional war against a conventional enemy, using a combination of superior technology and rapid maneuver. Air power is used in this scheme to basically immobilize the enemy—his tanks and soldiers cannot budge from their camouflaged locations because they will be immediately destroyed via overwhelming air superiority, allowing U.S. commanders to concentrate their forces and overwhelm the enemy at a point, then roll up the still-immobilized enemy from the point of penetration. I suggest you read Tom Clancy’s book on Gulf War I for more on this strategy. The U.S. Army is very good at this, as proven by Gulf War II.

The problem is that the need for this kind of military ends at the point that Bush makes a speech in front of a “Mission Accomplished!” sign, and then we’re in a guerilla war of occupation. The current U.S. Army is not designed for that kind of war. The U.S. Army is heavily oriented around tracked vehicles—the M1 tank and Bradley AFV. The M1 tank is not designed for sustained occupation duty, its gas turbine engine has less than 1/10th the rated duty hours between rebuilds of a diesel engine, and while some combat requires heavy armor (most death of Marines has occurred during times when they did not have integral armor to use for direct fire support, indirect fire support from aviation cannot substitute for direct fire support from integral artillery and armor), the M1A1’s weight and gun length makes it less than suitable for use within cities—indeed, the only deaths in Iraq for tankers within their M1’s have been drownings, either because the tanker fell asleep and ran off the road into a canal, or because a bridge collapsed under the tank.

The Bradley AFV is more suited for this, it has performed quite well in Iraq, but its tracks have proven to have an unexpectedly short life in the Iraqi sands. In addition, it too has mobility problems in urban areas due to its weight and bulk, though not to the extent that the M1A1 does.

The end result of this is that our forces have had to unexpectly rely overly much upon the only wheeled vehicles they have—Humvees and Strykers. And we don’t have many Strykers, I doubt we’ve ever had more than a few dozen in the whole of Iraq at any given time. Humvees were never designed for this sort of warfare, they were designed to haul troops and supplies to the front from whence the troops would disembark and fight on foot and to perform fast patrols, they weren’t designed to drive into actual combat. As for the Stryker, a) we don’t have many of them, and b) the ones we have lack the 25mm autocannon of the LAV or Pirhana and thus lacks effective firepower in combat (the Stryker, as basically an upsized Mowag Pirhana, certainly could mount the 25mm autocannon, but it was decided that being able to roll off of a C135 was more important and the upsizing as compared to the LAV made it too tall for the autocannont turret).

The end result is that our Army is being ground like hamburger meat in Iraq. There aren’t enough boots on the ground, they lack the proper equipment to fight a guerilla war (and uparmored Humvees are NOT the proper equipment, they need a vehicle actually designed to carry armor, the Humvees are very unreliable once uparmored), and the equipment they do have is literally falling apart and spends as much time in the repair depot as in the combat zone because it was never designed for the use that’s being made of it. And then we get this latest Pentagon report that says “Gee whiz, everything’s well! We don’t need to do anything, we have exactly the Army we need!” and I almost growl with frustration…

Here’s some needs I see:

  1. Improve Bradley track and bogie reliability. This is the primary limitation on use of the Bradleys. The Bradley otherwise has proven to be a surprisingly good weapon for this sort of war, but this reliability issue has limited its use.
  2. A better power pack for the M1 tanks. The gas turbine engine seemed the only possibility when the M1 was designed in the early 1970’s, because diesel engines were too heavy and made only 2/3rds the power. But the Europeans have introduced something they call the “EuroPowerPack” for their latest generation of tanks, which is a diesel power pack that produces the same power as the turbine in the M1 tank, weighs only a few hundred pounds more, and will fit in the same space, and has a rated service life between rebuilds that is ten times that of the (no-longer-manufactured) gas turbine. Getting that sucker into our tanks would give the Abrams a new lease on life.
  3. Add the autocannon to the Stryker. I’m sorry, but a .50 caliber machine gun that requires the operator to be hanging his ass in the wind with a target painted on it 10 feet above the ground isn’t a viable weapon for this kind of fight. This conflict has shown that organic artillery is important to keep our troops alive. Despite Rummy’s rantings, air power has not proven to be near as effective as organic artillery here.
  4. More Strykers. Our soldiers should never be doing escort duty in Humvees. Humvees are death traps in this kind of scenario.
That’s the least that needs to be done to prepare our military for future Iraq-style guerilla wars.

And the Pentagon’s happy happy cheery report addressed NONE of this.

Bleh. What a waste.

As for the procurement fat—We're spending $10 billion this year on two new fighter jets, the F22 and the Joint Strike Fighter. We don’t need two new fighter jets, we need more F-16’s and F-18 E/F’s. The F-16 is the best fighter in the world. It is reliable, servicable, hauls a heavy weapons load, has a good range, and is cheap both to acquire and operate. With upgraded weapons systems and avionics it will continue to be the best fighter in the world into the foreseeable future. Certainly none of the old Soviet fighter technology is going to threaten the F-16 anytime in the foreseeable future. As for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, this relatively new fighter/bomber jet is a workhorse. It has most of the same attributes as the F-16, hauling a huge weapons load into the air either to deliver to a ground target or to take out a dozen Soviet-era fighters all by its lonesome at a range where the Soviet-era fighters can’t even get a good radar fix on it.

We simply don’t need a new fighter jet. The Russian’s limited development of the Su-27 doesn’t cause such a requirement, because the Russians don’t have the money to invest in avionics and weapons systems—the fundamental Su-27 airframe is sound, but the engines are unreliable and the weapons systems are Soviet-era knock-offs of 1970’s U.S. weapons systems. Even the latest variant being purchased by the Chinese and Indians is a sitting duck to the F-16 and F-18 and will remain such for the foreseeable future. And the Eurofighter has proven to be little better than the French Mirage 2000 which was designed in the 1970's and itself little better than the French Mirage F1 which proved to be worth nothing except a target when flown by Iraq during Gulf War I.

What we do need to do is this. 1. Buy more F-16’s so we can a) retire the F-15 fleet which is aging and expensive to operate and b) retire the very oldest F-16's which are reaching the end of their airframe lifespan. 2. Buy more Super Hornets to get rid of the last of the non-Super Hornets and Tomcats, there is no need for a new strike fighter in the Navy, the "Super Bug" is an excellent and inexpensive to operate fighter. 3. Continue investing in weapons and avionics upgrades for the fighter fleet. That’s it. No new fighter jets needed for at least 20 years.

But instead of spending the money on upgrading the weapons systems that Iraq shows we need to upgrade, instead we’re sending hundreds of billions of dollars to defense contractors to build weapons we don’t need. The R&D budget alone for this year is over $60 billion dollars -- contrast that to the entire VA budget, $29 billion dollars for 2005. No money for sick soldiers, but lots of money for new toys for the airhead boys. Sick. Just sick.

Anyhow, that’s what I see -- a military that is not equipped for the war it is fighting and whose leadership, from the Commander in Chief down, refuses to confront and resolve this problem. Iraq has placed pressures upon the Army that it simply was not designed to handle. The fact that they’ve managed to keep going despite all the equipment failures is admirable, but we should get them the right equipment to fight the war they’re fighting. Period. Instead of denying reality and saying “Everything is fine, no problem!”.

And if we're not willing to do that, we should just bring them home altogether. Hell, we should do that anyhow -- as I mentioned earlier, military victory over the insurgency in Iraq is impossible without committing genocide. But the fact that our government appears more interested in enriching defense contractors rather than providing our men and women in uniform with what they actually need is just another nail in that coffin.

– Badtux the Military Penguin

4 comments:

  1. When John Cole and I agree that things are out of hand in Iraq, then things are definitely out of hand in Iraq...

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  2. The Osprey also needs to be put down. NTodd links to an article in the Army Times that they are pulling a Republican -screwing the boys to buy more toys.

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  3. The Osprey would actually be a pretty good bird, if they could just make the damned thing work. One of the jarheads told me that the Osprey would have been great to have in Afghanistan, because they were operating at ranges and altitudes where regular choppers were at their limits. The Osprey's longer range by comparison to choppers makes them much more useful in situations like Afghanistan where there were no in-country bases to refuel. The ability to self-deploy is also useful -- you no longer need to tie up military cargo planes hauling your chopper equivalents, you just dead-head the plane to the theater, land it at an airbase or airport outside the combat area, fuel it up, load your grunts onto it, and go surprise the bad guys hundreds of miles from where any American soldiers should be.

    The problem is that the damned thing doesn't work. And it's unclear whether it could ever be made to work. Despite that, Vice President Cheney signed off on production of the thing back in November. It doesn't matter whether it works or not, as long as the right palms are being greased, apparently...

    - Badtux the Cynical Penguin

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  4. I agree that this war in Iraq without any major forceful intervention on behalf of the Iraqi people is now being considered an unwinnable war. American power was mostly based on fighting the Soviet forces, one should not compare the "easy" Gulf war of 1990 with a confrontation with the Warsaw Pact. Assumption of Western technological edge over pityful russian equipment is highly overrated. In my opinion the soviets qould have overrun without too much difficulty NATO forces in the West with their own tactics of overwhelming the enemy. T The present war in Iraq exposes now the US armed force's inability to wage urban warfare correctly and decisively, US intelligence is at best laughable compared to Israeli por example. Equipment reform in Iraq is not the key to win this war,in reaction insurgents will surely find new ways of inflicting casualties. The Mongols tactics of razing a city to the ground if it didn't surrender worked as people's submission is concerned, but in no way should this be considered in Iraq. Such an event would be catastrophic for the Coalition and needless to say for the American world image in general. The only option then is the US and allies to leave Iraq and well, assume the consequences that will likely happen later on (islamic regime in place, civil war ,etc.). Iraq was a pandora box that was meant not be opened.

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